Thursday, March 31, 2011

Republican leaders wrong to call Judge Sumi a "judicial activist"

This morning Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued another order barring the implementation of the controversial anti-union "budget" repair bill. Judge Sumi issued the order due to the manner in which the bill was passed: an open meetings law that requires the public be notified of committee hearings was ignored, and the bill as it stood following that purposeful negligence of the law passed the Senate, all in one evening.

Republican leaders, naturally, are furious at the ruling.

"Once again, one Dane County judge is doing everything she can to stand in the way of our efforts," Sen. Maj. Leader Scott Fitzgerald said. "This is judicial activism at its worst."

His brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, shared those sentiments, adding that Judge Sumi "wants to keep interjecting herself into the legislative process with no regard to the state constitution."

Is Judge Sumi ruling as a judicial activist? Hardly -- her ruling that the law in question be suspended until further review is in compliance with the norms of judicial review.

It may seem trivial to Republicans, but the right of people to know what's going on in their legislature is a right that has been respected for decades. To ignore it now would undue a valued tradition, would rid our state of a right that every Wisconsin citizen deserves to have.

What's more, the qualms over the ruling that some Republicans are making are ridiculous. The belief that the judicial branch needs to stop meddling with the business of the legislature ignores century of Common Law practice that goes beyond not only our state's birth but the nation's as well. The courts have always had the right to delay law, even to nullify it, if it is passed in an illegal way, outside of the rules that the legislature itself created.

The cry-baby attitude of the Republican Party over Judge Sumi's ruling is ridiculous for another reason: her order doesn't prevent them from re-passing the law. If the Republicans in the legislature are so bent out of shape over this, they can simply pass the law again, this time adhering to the open meetings law, a fact that Judge Sumi herself recognized in the first court hearing she presided over.

Her legal observation furthers the argument that her ruling isn't about political interference from a judge, isn't about her own attitudes or supposed bias towards the law in question -- on the contrary, the judge is recognizing the right of the legislature to pass such a law. To characterize Judge Sumi as reaching beyond her legal capacity as a judge for political gain is ignorant of the fact that she herself established a way for Republicans to legally implement this piece of legislation.

With that in mind, the Republican lawmakers don't have a legitimate argument to make regarding Judge Sumi as an activist. An activist might try to change the law itself, rule it unconstitutional, or otherwise rewrite the law to fit their own beliefs; what Judge Sumi did was simply bar its implementation until it can be further examined by a higher court. That's not "judicial activism," and isn't action "[without] regard to the state constitution" as the "Brothers Fitz" would have you believe.

Republicans in the state who believe Judge Sumi is a judicial activist need to get their heads out of the sand. Acting as any judge would act -- adhering to the rule of law, in this case open meetings law -- is not judicial activism.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

RPDC press release unfairly characterizes Dane Co. liberals as intolerant

The Republican Party of Dane County (RPDC) produced a satirical press release regarding Judge Maryann Sumi's recent (second) decision to halt the implementation of the anti-union "budget" law. As a bill, the legislation passed without proper notification to the people of Wisconsin; therefore it was in violation of open meetings law.

The press release by RPDC made it clear that they didn't fault Judge Sumi's actions: she had to carry through her "leftist" judgment because, after all, she's a lefty judge living in a lefty county:
The Republican Party of Dane County recognizes that Judge Sumi is a leftist living in Dane County. Her friends are leftists living in Dane County. Her son is a left wing activist in Dane County. She goes to cocktail parties held by leftists in Dane County. She shops at organic gourmet food shops run by leftists living in Dane County. If she were to enforce the law of Wisconsin and do what was in the best interest of the people of Wisconsin, she’d be exiled from her lifestyle. She’d lose her friends!
There's a lot wrong with that statement from the RPDC. First, Judge Sumi was appointed by former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. Deriding her as a lefty activist judge is tantamount to saying Thompson is a lefty. Anyone who knows anything about Wisconsin politics knows otherwise.

Not only is she an appointee of Thompson's, she also gave him over $400 in political donations within a four-year period. Though she also gave to liberal candidates over the years, Sumi's total dollar amount of campaign donations went 2-to-1 in favor of the Republican Party.

But the RPDC press release got me thinking: Is Madison an intolerant city? In certain ways, this question seems silly. We pride ourselves on acceptance of cultures and lifestyles outside the mainstream. Though still predominantly white, we have a higher racial makeup than most areas of the state. We are a pretty tolerant group of people in this city.

However, the question of whether we tolerate Republicans or not is a mixed bag. I'm not going to be naive here, not going to sugarcoat it for anyone: we don't like the ideas of the Republican Party. They don't appeal to most Dane County residents, aren't the ideals we'd like to see implemented in our area, state, or country.

Does that mean we're intolerant? Some people, it's true, act in an intolerant way. The people who are destructive, who vandalize Republican operatives' property, are clearly intolerant of their political opposition. But this group of people remains an incredibly small minority. The people at the Capitol during the protests, for instance, were recognized by law enforcement as behaving in a very respectful manner.

It's unfair to characterize the left in this county as "intolerant." While most Dane County residents don't like Republican ideas, the left in this county are pretty OK with allowing them to have their voices heard, to make their opinions known.

If we're to characterize an entire ideology or party as being intolerant based on the actions of a few within it, perhaps the Republican Party should look at the conservatives in this county. Many of them have threatened the life of Tammy Baldwin on many occasions, since she first became a member of Congress in 1998. Does that mean that the entire RPDC is intolerant? Of course not. But under the logic of the RPDC, it does.

We ought to reassess the entire situation, stop trying to call others intolerant and focus on the issues before us. Here's what's before us now: Judge Maryann Sumi is a very qualified and respected judge. She issued a temporary restraining order on a law that, quite frankly, passed the legislature under very curious circumstances, to say the least. She allowed for Senate Republicans to pass the bill again, if they wanted to do so, so her bias against the law in question (if it exists) hasn't forced her to outright say the law itself is unconstitutional, just the way it was passed unlawful.

The uproar that Scott Walker's budget bill brought about isn't indicative of "intolerance" in Dane County. A political demonstration of that size doesn't mean people are disrespectful of Republicans in the area -- after all, Tea Party protests that occur aren't signs of intolerance within the conservative movement (save for the individuals who hold intolerant signs, again a select few among a number of true believers).

Furthermore, anyone who believes that the liberals in this county are overwhelmingly intolerant ought to consider intolerant acts that occur in conservative portions of this country. In both cases, said intolerance is not indicative of the ideologies overall.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Judge Sumi rules again: budget law not in effect

The question before everyone earlier today: was the budget law implementable yet? The answer to everyone using their common sense: Not likely. And Judge Maryann Sumi made her earlier judgment even more clear, stating today that the law is not to be implemented at this time.

Though it was published on the Legislative Reference Bureau's website last weekend, the controversial law that ends collective bargaining rights for thousands of public workers has not yet been published in the official state newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal. Until it's published there, officially the law cannot be implemented.

A temporary restraining order on Secretary of State Doug La Follette prohibits him from publishing the law in the State Journal until the matter can be further reviewed. But Scott Walker & Co. see it otherwise. Department of Administration head Mike Huebsch began implementing the law this past weekend following it's publication on the LBR's website.

That was a complete disregard for the rule of law. Not only was the Walker administration deliberately disobeying the intent of a court order, it also disobeyed the laws that have been established regarding when a passed law can be implemented. Even the LRB had come out and said that the law was not in effect -- not until the Sec. of State publishes it in the State Journal. But that didn't matter to Walker and his Republican allies.

They published the law anyway and carried it out as if only their opinion mattered. There was also evidence that suggested Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald put pressure on the LRB to publish the law, suggesting that this had been part of the Wisconsin Republican leaders' playbook. The threat of legal action against the LRB coming from the Attorney General's office sealed the deal, and despite not believing themselves that publishing the law on their site made it implementable, the LRB acquiesced to the governor's demands.

While state law does require a law to be published within ten days of its passage, the law in question was passed in an illegal manner. An open meetings law was violated in the process of this law being rammed through the legislature. Without proper notice given to the people of Wisconsin, the law should be nullified, deemed passed in an improper way. It can be passed again if Republicans want to do that -- but the law as it stands shouldn't be recognized as valid.

Disregarding the laws of the state and disregarding the legal rulings of this state's judges -- it's sad to say that the actions of these Republican lawmakers don't surprise me much anymore. Judge Sumi's decision today is the right one to have made, reaffirming her earlier judgment that the budget law, which passed in an illegal fashion, needs further review.

Monday, March 28, 2011

WI GOP assault on paid sick days overrules local decision-making

The right-wing attack on working Wisconsinites continues on this week at the state Capitol building. This time, it’s about municipal control over extending rights to workers for sick leave.

In a puzzling twist, legislative Republicans have shifted their dynamic regarding local rights on the issue. It’s not about local control for Wisconsin’s conservative lawmakers. The longstanding argument that centralized governments (even on the state level) simply want to control your lives is one that should no longer be argued by Republicans in the legislature, given their recent actions on this and other issues related to workers’ rights.

The latest assault on working individuals is up for vote soon. Assembly Bill 41is set to be debated upon, with a public hearing scheduled for this Wednesday around 10:30 AM at the Capitol in Madison. The bill would remove the rights of municipalities (PDF) to provide for their employees extended sick days in certain medical circumstances.

An ordinance passed in Milwaukee in 2008 granted both public and private employees one hour of sick leave for every thirty hours of work they performed, not an unreasonable amount of leave. It also extended sick days to cover certain conditions that the state didn’t recognize, such as mental illnesses or preventative care.

Yet for Republicans in our state legislature the move would be too much. Despite their usual call for local control over the business of municipalities, state Republicans are attempting to command what city and local governments can or cannot decide for their citizens residing in their borders.

What’s ironic here is that the controversial budget bill that was passed recently was justified solely by Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican allies to give local governments more control. But it seems that, when local control defies the intent of conservative philosophy, it’s no longer relevant – and must be remedied, in the eyes of the state GOP.

Should city and local governments have ability to extend paid sick days? Of course: if the City of Milwaukee wants to extend medical leave rights for its citizens, the state shouldn’t interject. The only time the state should meddle in the business of a local government is when it fails to adhere to the standards the state has already set up, not when it goes beyond them. When a municipality decides that they’d like to go above the state’s requirements in a positive direction, the state shouldn’t intervene but rather allow that municipality to do so, perhaps even encourage them to do so if they’re willing to carry the burden.

Scott Walker and legislative Republicans are wrong for attacking this right, wrong for limiting what governments can do in this instance. They should remove the bill from consideration, and reaffirm the right of municipalities to have some local control – otherwise, they should refrain from using that talking point in all future debates.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"False flag" email stirs up memories of Walker's "troublemakers" idea

Revealed today was the fact that an email from Indiana suggested to Gov. Scott Walker during the Madison protests that he consider using a "false flag" strategy -- wherein Walker would fake a violent act, supposedly from a staged actor pretending to be a protester -- in order to drum up support for his own cause of passing the bill.

The problem with the "false flag" scenario isn't so much that the Walker administration was seeking it out or that they ended up implementing it. They weren't and they didn't -- the problem is that they were considering other ideas at least somewhat similar in nature to what this email brought up, ideas that were meant to discredit the protesters through staged actions.

Though it was less violent in nature, Walker admitted to a prank caller that he had contemplated putting "troublemakers" in the crowds with the protesters in Madison, hoping that they would stir up animosity to discredit the pro-union crowds. He only backed away from doing so because he didn't believe it would help him any politically.

Today's email-revelation stirs up that memory, something that the people of Wisconsin shouldn't forget anytime soon. Our governor actually considered placing within a peaceful protest agents with a specific intent to make demonstrators look bad. We should be mindful that Gov. Walker is bringing Wisconsin government down to a level no one ever conceived it could reach -- and though the email's suggestions were never carried out, with Walker having considered similar options in the past one has to wonder: did Scott Walker ever consider this?

Trump unqualified for presidency, refuses to answer questions about his hair

The following is a piece of satire, not to be taken as a serious piece of opinion.

Donald Trump isn't fit to be president of the United States. There are just too many questions surrounding the man's character and whether he'd be a good fit for the presidency. It shouldn't surprise anyone that most of these questions center upon...his hair.

I mean, just LOOK at it: doesn't it seem a little...funny looking? It doesn't appear to be real at all. If ever a man had a hair structure that looked like "a piece," it'd be the Donald.

That's why I believe, before he starts any consideration for the presidency, we should have Donald Trump's head examined.

Of course, Trump could have his own personal "hairdresser" examine his scalp, and then call it a day. But that won't satisfy me and countless others -- I mean, Trump is a billionaire. He could simply pay off anyone to say his hair was legitimately his, to say that he had a full head of hair that did, in fact, grow in that strange way.

This issue is of utmost importance. But there will be skeptics, of course. A lot of people are going to ask: so what? Why would a hairstyle even matter for someone seeking office?

Well you have some nerve, mister.

If Trump is lying about his hair, there's no telling what else he's lying about. Is he really a billionaire? Did he really snub Gadhafi? Does he really want to be president? Then, imagine if he wins office -- should we consider him our true president if, as I suspect, part of his scalp isn't truly part of him? Can we even be sure (if it's indeed a hair piece) that he had it made in America...or did he order his piece from some foreign country?

We could be dealing with an issue of disloyalty here. Who will Trump favor, the American people, or French hair designers?

These are questions I don't think we can afford to leave unanswered. We're talking about a foreign-made tussle of locks running the free world here!

If Donald Trump cannot come forward about his hair, allowing a TRUE and IMPARTIAL stylist to analyze his 'do, then the American people must reject him as a candidate for president. Donald Trump can't just "brush" this issue aside.

Seem like a ridiculous argument? Birthers, including Trump himself, should note that this is how they sound, too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Assessing Sen. Ron Johnson's Op-Ed: 1-year anniversary of "ObamaCare"

On the one year anniversary of Health Care Reform (hereafter referred to HCR) being enacted, our state's newly elected senator, Republican Ron Johnson, wrote an editorial piece for the Wall Street Journal. In it, Johnson described how his own daughter "probably wouldn't have survived in a system where bureaucrats stifle innovation and ration care."

With a tagline like that, you could tell where this article was headed.

Johnson made several erroneous comments about health reform, including rehashing the baseless claim about death panels. So here is an annotated assessment of some of his comments, for your viewing pleasure (Johnson's quotes in gray, assessments of his rationale in yellow).

Today is the first anniversary of the greatest single assault on our freedom in my lifetime: the signing of ObamaCare.
Right off the bat, in the first sentence, Johnson screws up big time. It's difficult to understand why Johnson would see HCR as an assault on his freedom, though he's not the only one to have made this claim. No one's taxes are raised to fund this law, save for those that fail to get insurance (who are able to do so). Not exactly an assault on freedom, if you ask me -- other taxes are placed on people who don't purchase expensive goods as well. There are tax credits, for example, for homeowners, credits for couples with children...does that mean that renters' freedoms or a single person's freedoms are being taken away?

Johnson also leaves out a greater assault on his freedom, one that's more realistic: the USA PATRIOT Act, which allowed greater government involvement into the private lives of U.S. citizens, such as phone records, library checkouts, even sneak-and-peak home invasions. But something like that never crossed Sen. Johnson's mind, I suppose.
She wasn't saved by a bureaucrat, and no government mandate forced her parents to purchase the coverage that saved her. Instead, [Johnson's daughter's] care was provided under a run-of-the-mill plan available to every employee of an Oshkosh, Wis., plastics plant.
It's funny that Johnson touts his own company's plan as sufficient to save his daughter's life. It probably is -- but then again, Johnson is able to afford his own coverage. For five employees of his in 2010, however, and their dependents (up to 10 more family members total), the plan was apparently too expensive, as they had to enter the state's BadgerCare program. In the end, that's the real issue surrounding HCR -- not it's quality of care, but rather the ability of all to receive care, from their employers' plans or otherwise.
The procedure that saved her, and has given her a chance at a full life, was available because America has a free-market system that has advanced medicine at a phenomenal pace.

I don't even want to think what might have happened if she had been born at a time and place where government defined the limits for most insurance policies and set precedents on what would be covered. Would the life-saving procedures that saved her have been deemed cost-effective by policy makers deciding where to spend increasingly scarce tax dollars?

The belief that Johnson's own daughter would've been affected at all by HCR is a terrible assumption to make -- she would've had the same insurance regardless of whether or not "ObamaCare" was in place when she had the procedure performed. I'm glad his daughter is healthy, but his use of his family's story in a misleading way is a terrible manipulation of the issue of health care.

Furthermore, the only "government defined limits" created by this law is on the insurance companies that previously denied coverage to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. There are no limits on consumers, no death panels ran by the government, only an abolition of REAL death panels that were in place within private insurance companies prior to the law taking effect.

Lastly on this point, the "scarce tax dollars" that Johnson is talking about is just plain wrong. Johnson believes we're spending more of our budget towards Obama's plan -- but even the non-partisan CBO pointed out that reform would cut the deficit by more than a trillion dollars. Johnson's claims about wasting away our scarce tax revenue are simply false.
I am convinced that ObamaCare was designed to lead to a government takeover of our entire health-care system, which is one-sixth of our economy. As I traveled around Wisconsin in the last year, I asked thousands of people a simple question: "Do you think the federal government has the capability of running one-sixth of our economy?" Only two people ever raised their hands.
Johnson's concern over the government "controlling" health care and one-sixth of the economy misses the point entirely: one out of every six dollars spent by average Americans goes toward health costs. Is that really a statistic that Johnson is proud of? It's ridiculous -- in the world's wealthiest country, the people are literally going broke trying to stay healthy. 60 percent of bankruptcies are a result of overwhelming health bills. If Ron Johnson is "ok" with that, he obviously needs to reassess his values.
It's not clear whether Sen. Johnson truly believes the tripe he spewed onto the Wall Street Journal or if he's saying these misleading statements (and lies) simply to continue the misinformation campaign against HCR. What IS clear is that Johnson's statements are irresponsibly dispelling this load of mistruths in an attempt to keep what used to be the status quo in place.

Johnson is perfectly satisfied with keeping things the way they were. I suppose for a millionaire, the threat of denial of coverage because you had acne or were raped isn't too frightening -- but for the rest of us, it's a reality we can't afford to go back to. Health reform wasn't perfect, won't correct all the problems we face, but it's certainly better than what we didn't have before a year ago.

Celebrate this anniversary in a positive light: for many, "ObamaCare" is a lifesaver.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Justice Prosser unfit for the State Supreme Court

If you called your boss a bad word and threatened them professionally, how much longer would you expect to keep your job? Justice David Prosser, who is seeking re-election to the State Supreme Court, is hoping you’d overlook such an indiscretion.

He admitted recently that emails and other justices’ testimonials were accurate in their portrayal of an incident where he had exercised terrible judgment. Prosser had called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “bitch” and threatened to “destroy” her.

But according to Prosser, it’s totally justifiable. You see, he was GOADED into calling Abrahamson a “bitch,” and threatened her because SHE made him do it.

“I probably overreacted, but I think it was entirely warranted,” Prosser said. He also made no mention of an apology to the Chief Justice, in public or private.

To be fair, the incident isn’t indicative of Prosser’s judicial expertise (though there is reason for concern there as well); but it does draw up some important questions about his character. If Prosser is unable to work well with others, how are we to expect him to serve in a branch of government that requires him to come to a consensus with his colleagues? Can we expect him to draw judicial conclusions on the merits of the case, or are they going to be influenced by his personal relationships with his judicial equals?

What’s more, Prosser places the blame entirely on Abrahamson. Such an admission isn’t just inexcusable, but in some ways might be signs of abusive behavior. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for abusers to say to their victims that it’s their fault, that they didn’t want to hit them or yell at them, but because of their behavior, they had no other choice.

Prosser’s behavior is certainly anything but productive, similar in ways to that of an adolescent unable to understand the world around them. If he’s unable to behave in a way that’s expected of the office he holds, much less to take responsibility for his actions, then he isn’t fit to be a Supreme Court justice. Vote Kloppenburg on April 5.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gov. Walker right on emails, but still wrong on state support

Earlier this month I made a claim that I can’t stand behind any longer, or at the very least need to amend.

I stated that Gov. Scott Walker was misleading when he said that most of the emails he received regarding his budget repair bill were in favor of his position. He also went on to say that a “silent majority” supported his plan, and that he wouldn’t give in because a sizable amount of emails from the people of Wisconsin wanted him to push forward with his agenda.

An analysis of the emails his office received – a sampling of nearly 2,000 of the 50,000 that were available – shows that Walker was right, that most of the emails were from supporters (about a 60-30 margin).

I would therefore like to retract my statement arguing that Walker was “making up” his assertion on the emails of support he received.

That being said, it’s still clear that Walker is ignoring the people of the state. Poll after poll shows that majorities of the Wisconsin people reject his bill, and largely support the efforts of unions to preserve their collective bargaining rights.

It might do some good, too, to further analyze the breadth of the emails that Walker received as well. According to the Isthmus, one-third of the supportive emails Walker got were from out-of-state. That means of the 62 percent of the emails supporting him -- or about 31,000 emails -- only about 20,670 were from supporters within the state.

Conversely, about 89 percent of the emails against Walker's bill were from in-state, which means Walker received approximately 14,400 emails against his proposal.

So Walker is still right about his assessment of the emails he received, that most were from in-state supporters. However, given the size of the emails he received versus the number of Wisconsinites that showed up to the Capitol steps to protest it, does it even matter?

Let’s do the math: While still a sizable number, the 20,670 emails of support is minuscule in comparison to the size of actual protesters that came to Madison to argue against Walker’s bill in person. More than 100,000 protesters, most of them from Wisconsin, came on March 12 to welcome back the 14 State Democratic Senators and to protest the recently passed bill Walker had signed the day before. Even if half of those present were from out-of-state (a very generous concession to say the least), it’s still more than double the emails Walker received in support from Wisconsin citizens. Add in the number of emails Walker received in opposition to his bill from Wisconsin citizens (approximately 14,400), and it’s more than three times the number of emails he got in support -- and again, that's with the generous concession that half of the 100,000 protesters were from out of state. Without that concession, the number of those opposing Walker's budget repair bill vs. the number of emails he received in support is more than 5-to-1 in favor of the protesters.

Walker was right in that the number of emails he received in regards to his budget repair bill were mostly in support of his position. But the number of in-state supporters (approximately 20,670) who emailed him was only a few thousand more than those that emailed him in opposition (14,400, or just above a 6,000 difference). That number is more than made up for in the sum of Wisconsinites that came to Madison to show their opposition in person, which at its height reached six-figure numbers.

The claims of a “silent majority” supporting Walker are still outrageous – even if the number of emails he received were generally in favor of his proposal, the numbers that came to him directly through the protests in Madison outweighed them significantly. Scott Walker is purposefully ignoring those protesters, as well as the polling numbers, that indicate that Wisconsin opposes his political agenda.

A reluctant defense of U.S. involvement in Libya

The start of military action taken against Libya this past weekend is a bit of a mixed bag. While I consider myself to be a fairly pro-peace, anti-war kind of person, there does come a time when military action becomes justifiable.

The events in Libya warrant military action, especially given Moammar Gadhafi’s willingness to use brutal force on his own citizens. The fact that there’s an international cooperative effort to intervene on behalf of the Libyan people demonstrates the shared belief, globally, that action against Gadhafi is justified.

What’s troubling to me is that this is another war we’ve decided to involve our already strained military in. With progress in Afghanistan going slowly, and our presence in Iraq still significant, it’s necessary to consider all other options available before involving ourselves in war-like scenarios. The effect of this conflict on our budget isn’t anything to overlook either, at a time where lawmakers in Washington are engulfed in a battle of their own.

Another concern is the unilateral approach (in terms of our own government) that President Barack Obama has taken in sending our forces into Libyan territory. Congress, not the president, is responsible for declarations of war – thus officially we’re not really at war with Libya. Still, even if we’re adhering to the letter of the law, it would’ve been more responsible for Obama to have requested Congressional approval before joining the alliance against Gadhafi.

Finally, but most importantly, we have to do our very best to ensure that collateral damage remains small. The true victims of this assault on Libya will be the people themselves. Military action inevitably affects innocents – so as we go into this conflict, we must be mindful of those who are not our concern militarily, doing everything that can be done to prevent inhumane killings, the very reason this conflict started in the first place.

One last point to make: While I understand the rationale against going to war with Libya, there’s also the argument that resisting the call to action might end up being worse for the situation. Gadhafi has shown he’s capable of performing terrible and inhumane acts against his own people. To let that slide, to shrug off the human cost of doing nothing, would be just as irresponsible as being too proactive in going to war, as we were when we invaded Iraq. A balanced approach, of weighing the pro’s and con’s of creating a no-fly zone against Gadhafi, is the best option to have taken; and having made that balanced approach, Obama gains my trust as a leader in this fight against the Libyan dictator (though again, that level of trust would be higher if he had gained Congressional consent).

Keep the people of Libya in your thoughts and prayers. Our actions may be justified, but it’s their lives that are being affected the most. Let us not lose sight of that fact as we move forward in this conflict.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

UW economist says 20,000 jobs will be lost because of Walker's budget

A University of Wisconsin economist projects that Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget will lose the state more than 20,000 jobs over the next two years (from Madison.com:
An estimated 21,843 jobs will be lost over the next year or two as public agencies and workers are able to spend less in their communities, said Steven Deller, a professor of applied economics who studied the ripple effects of Walker's budget-repair bill and two-year budget proposal.

"That's not just a bump in the road," Deller said. "That's a speed bump."
This projection comes as sad news, for both the state and Scott Walker. During his campaign and throughout his reign as governor, Walker has maintained he would create more than 250,000 jobs for the state through his radical budget proposals. A loss of 20,000 jobs is definitely a big jump in the wrong direction.

However, the goal of 250,000 jobs is also unrealistic -- it would effectively end unemployment completely in our state.

Still, if Walker wants to even strive for an unrealistic goal, he's going about it in a terrible way. By removing revenue and simultaneously giving tax breaks to wealthy corporations, state agencies won't be able to invest in Wisconsin communities -- and in turn, in Wisconsin workers.

But that's precisely Walker's plan: he doesn't want any government involvement to aide in the creation of jobs whatsoever. He isn't concerned with preserving jobs that already exist, especially if they're a result of government investment. No Republican is -- even GOP House Speaker John Boehner said "so be it" when it was suggested his national budget proposal might kill government jobs.

The answer to our economic and unemployment problems isn't for the government to create a slew of jobs -- doing so comes with creating an artificial economic recovery, one that might stave off real recovery longer. But investing in communities, putting capital where it might help municipalities to create long-term opportunities that go beyond the original investment, is a viable option for fixing the economic mess we're living in.

Budget cuts are necessary, but cutting the budget while slashing your source of revenue is dangerous (as Walker did with $140 million in tax giveaways to wealthy corporations). It won't do anything to lessen your deficits. Try likening it to a personal credit card -- to properly cut your bill, you need to stop spending as much but also continue paying your bills (indeed, stopping the flow of "revenue" towards your credit card bill will result in a higher balance). You can still spend with your credit card as well, if you do so responsibly; but you still need to pay into your bills to make things work, to lower your personal "deficits."

Scott Walker isn't spending Wisconsin's "credit card" wisely. He's cutting services, spending, and investment into our state's economy, which would bring the deficits down...if he wasn't so dedicated to bringing down revenue as well, again in the form of tax breaks for wealthy businesses. Walker needs to rethink his economic initiatives, consider who it is who needs to benefit from them, and be open to more options that increase revenue to the state of Wisconsin.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Judge places hold on anti-union bill

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi announced today a temporary hold on the anti-union law that was signed last week by Gov. Scott Walker. The hold prevents Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law, effectively delaying its implementation until certain matters are resolved.

At issue is whether Republicans, when steamrolling the bill through the legislature, violated open meetings laws designed to prevent expedited legislation from passing without the people of the state receiving proper notice. Whether the violation of open meetings laws warrants a complete scrapping of the entire anti-union legislation or not is up for a debate, during a court hearing scheduled for early April.

However, state Attorney General JB Van Hollen disagrees. The office of the Attorney General announced, almost immediately following the announcement of Judge Sumi, that it would appeal the delay, and that the law should be published on or before March 25, the date La Follette said he would do it. Wisconsin law states that legislation signed by the governor goes into effect the day after the Secretary of State publishes it.

But the hold is the right thing to do. It’s unclear if the violation by Republicans invalidates the bill entirely or not, rendering the law ineffective. But what IS clear is that Republicans in our state legislature violated the rule of law when they attempted to pass legislation without a hearing for the public to take part in. Letting that go, no matter what legislation was passed, is a grave problem, and sends the wrong message to the people about what their legislators stand for.

We shouldn’t compromise our principles, our laws, and our openness to the people in order to pass legislation in a speedy, reckless way. It seems, however, that GOP lawmakers are perfectly fine with doing just that.

Scott Walker's fake cops disgraceful, shameful

A quick comment on Scott Walker’s fake cops...

Near the underground tunnels where protesters congregated to demonstrate against Walker’s controversial budget bill, a private security officer claimed he was actually a police officer and demanded to see the protesters’ ID’s. When the protesters themselves asked to see his badge, he refused. Officers both on- and off-duty are required to display their badges whenever they make it known that they are indeed officers. This man’s refusal to do so was a clear indication that he wasn’t who he said he was.

Scott Walker certainly has the right to hire the help of private security firms -- no one is suggesting otherwise. But when those hired hands act in a thuggish manner, defacing the good name of our state’s law enforcement in the process, a line has been crossed. Whether prompted by Walker to manipulate our state’s officers’ good name or not, our governor should be ashamed of himself, either of knowing this was going to happen or of hiring these people who readily and without hesitation impersonate the bravest individuals Wisconsin has to offer.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

State in dire need of campaign finance reform

Earlier this week, I wrote on the need to implement public financing of electoral campaigns. I didn’t provide a framework or an idea of what should be done, but rather discussed why campaign finance reform would be beneficial to the people overall, enhancing voters’ speech rights by making them more equal to donations from large corporate interests and the wealthy elite. In essence, I argued that the problem facing our country wasn’t a free speech issue, but rather an equal speech issue.

I want to address an issue that I’ve often heard brought about by several conservatives I talk to. I’ve read assertions over the past year that the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court was justifiable...because it allowed unions to donate to political causes too, and that the end result would be beneficial to everyone, not just corporate elites. That justification, it seems to me, is worthless for two reasons.

First, if unions had the capability to match corporate funding of campaigns, it might matter a little. The fact of the matter is that they don’t that they’re vastly outspent by their corporatist counterparts.

According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, businesses outspend unions in Wisconsin by a margin of 12 to 1. For the Republican Party, it’s significantly larger (104 to 1), likely due in part to the fact that most unions generally donate to Democrats. But for Democratic campaigns, unions are STILL outspent by corporate dollars (6 to 1), meaning that union influence on Democratic campaigns is still insignificant compared to businesses overall.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, simply stating that another entity has the right to spend unlimited amounts of money doesn’t fix the fact that money in politics is still influencing our candidates for office. In fact, money shouldn’t play a factor at all -- a candidate should rely on the voters’ concerns, not their pocketbooks, to influence their campaigns, and ultimately the way they legislate. By limiting corporate -- and yes, union -- campaign spending, the people would have a greater voice within the system overall.

Simply put, limits on campaign spending -- allowing only a certain amount to be donated towards a specific candidate or political action committee -- would allow citizens both the right to donate to campaigns as well as the right to have a near-equal influence of their legislators.

It’s true that the current model still allows lawmakers to make up their own minds, to truly consider their constituents’ wishes when drafting legislation. But come on -- who are we kidding here? A lawmaker who has the financial backing of a major corporation (even if it’s an indirect endorsement) will pay little mind to the donor who scrounged up $25 to show their support, especially if that lawmaker risks losing the backing of that major corporation in the next election.

We live in a time where people don’t matter in our democracy anymore. It’s not yet “rule by corporations” (what Mussolini himself coined as “fascism”), but right now we have middle-men lawmakers passing legislation based on the wants and desires of corporate wealthy elites, not the people they supposedly represent. We ought to change that, restore our democracy, and reform the campaign process.

Illuminate Me Article: Protests in the Dairy Land

Check out an article I wrote for a site called Illuminate Me, about the protests in Madison, what they represent, and where we'll go from here: Protests in the Dairy Land.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Money and free speech

Is money “free speech?” It certainly is according to several prominent lawmakers. But the idea of money as speech, that it can carry over the same rights that go along with it, is a foolish assumption to make.

“Money as free speech” matters because of election fundraising. The idea behind “money as free speech” is that, in order to voice your satisfaction with a particular candidate, you should be able to contribute as much money as possible towards their election campaign in order to indicate to others your endorsement of that person. In other words, you “speak” your mind through your commitment – and investment – in a particular candidate.

To one who is unfamiliar with campaign finance issues, “money as free speech” makes sense when it’s put in those terms. But as a result of that theory, politicians seem to forego their legislative duties, catering to their donors’ wishes rather than their constituents’ concerns.

It can also create a problem of an unintended censorship of opinion. As a consequence of the Citizens United decision made earlier last year, corporations can spend unlimited amounts of capital towards their favorite political causes, including commercials endorsing (or defaming) their candidates of choice. With a barrage of advertisements costing a particular corporation millions of dollars to produce and disseminate, it’s difficult to understand how John Q. Public’s contribution of $50 is going to influence the election, if at all.

The problem with free speech in campaigning is that it’s framing the debate incorrectly; what we truly have is a problem of equal speech, of ensuring that each individual is granted the same opportunity to make their voice heard as much as the next. When we consider it from this perspective, campaign limits make perfect sense in order to preserve free AND equal speech.

If an person is limited to spending $2,000 on an individual or political action committee (PAC) it ensures that the average person’s donations are of similar weight and therefore creates equal speech (if we’re to continue presuming that speech and money are synonymous).

Corporations, which earn profits beyond the means of individuals, should be restrained from creating commercials or donating to individual candidates or PACS; but the individuals that form a corporation should be free to form a PAC themselves, and to donate to that PAC as individuals if they want to promote their corporation’s interests. In other words, corporations shouldn’t have a leg-up on individuals simply because they’re able to make obscene profits that can be spent on campaigns.

A limit on campaign spending wouldn’t be a limit on free speech rights; there are plenty of other ways to voice your opinion on a political issue or candidate other than direct contributions to a campaign. You can organize political protests, write letters to the editor, or set up meetings wherein you and several others discuss the topics at great lengths.

In the end, the size of your wallet shouldn’t dictate whether your speech rights can drown out all others or not – political speech should be accessible by all, not merely a competition to see who can silence whom. Equal access to voice your opinion should be the ultimate goal of campaign speech rights, and campaign finance reform should be an acceptable vehicle to guarantee these rights aren’t infringed upon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A few recall updates worth noting: polls, protests, and Hopper

A few new updates on the recall efforts in Wisconsin.

First, the good news: after only two weekends of canvassing, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has received nearly half of the signatures needed to initiate a recall on all eight Republican State Senators. Under Wisconsin state law, you need to get 25 percent of the total who voted within each senator's district's race in the previous election. The time frame to do this in is 60 days. The Democrats are on pace to do it in half that time.

Now, the mixed news: Daily Kos polling shows that many of the races these GOP Senators would face, if put up against a hypothetical Democrat, are very close. In two of the races, the hypothetical Democrat wins by five percent or more. Three races are within five percent, and the other three have the Republican winning by five percent or more.

This is mixed news because, of course, it's way too early to tell what's going to happen in these recall elections, when they do indeed happen. A "hypothetical Democratic candidate" and an actual person running for office will trend different polling numbers. So we could either see a better result (or worse) depending on who we run in these special elections.

I remain optimistic, however, because of several reasons. In two separate instances this week, Gov. Scott Walker was on the receiving end of protesters numbering in the thousands (one in Washburn, the other near Green Bay).

Besides the number of protests occurring wherever Walker shows up in the state, and beyond the polling numbers that show the state is supporting Democrats, there's the fact that the Wisconsin Republican Party may be imploding on itself. Sen. Randy Hopper is one of the Republican Senators who may lose his seat due to the recall efforts. When protesters came before his house last week, his wife came out and explained Hopper wasn't there, that he was living with his mistress in Madison.

The Party of Family values shows itself once again to be the Party of Hypocrisy.

So while it's not a sure thing yet, it's looking pretty good for the Democrats as far as the recall goes. But we cannot stop now: this election, even if we get all the signatures we need, will not be an easy one to win. You can best believe that the same corporate interests that helped fund Scott Walker's campaign will be out in full force, supporting the Republican candidates with as much money as they need.

Let's show them that they cannot "own" this state's democracy. Support the Wisconsin 14, and let's see if we can't change them into the Wisconsin 17...or more!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Madison rally yesterday larger than any Tea Party protest. Ever.

Yesterday, 85,000-100,000 people swarmed the Capitol building in Madison to show their support for the Wisconsin 14 as well as to show solidarity against the stripping of workers' rights. A law signed by Walker on Friday removes collective bargaining for public service employees, effectively giving workers no say in silly matters like workplace conditions or emergency medical leave, for example.

The numbers were impressive -- indeed, the largest protest that Madison has ever seen, including during the Vietnam War years. But I was still curious to find out how, if at all, the Tea Party protests in Madison compared in size.

I did a simple search on Google, and read a headline or two. One stated, "Madison Rally Bigger Than Biggest Tea Party Rally." OK, I thought. I already knew that, right? If the Madison rally yesterday was the biggest one that the city had ever seen, it made sense that no Tea Party rally in the city would outsize it.

I clicked the link anyway, and my jaw dropped.

It wasn't a story about how the rally was bigger than any Tea Party rally in Madison. It was about how the rally yesterday was bigger than any Tea Party protest EVER.

The largest Tea Party protest, which took place in Washington, D.C., had approximately 60,000-70,000 involved. That's not a number to sneer at -- but it's also significantly smaller than the protest we saw in Madison yesterday.

What's more impressive, the protest yesterday took place in our backyard, not in a large city like D.C. or New York. The Tea Partiers came from all across America to show their disdain within their largest protest. But, while some of the Madison protesters were from out of state, the vast majority of them were regular folk from Wisconsin, coming to the state's capital in order to show solidarity and unity in purpose.

It's saddening that the mainstream media failed to report on this event. What happened in Madison yesterday is proof positive that the people of our state -- and perhaps the nation overall -- don't want the cuts the government is imposing.

We care about jobs, the economy, and yes even trimming the deficits our governments have. But we don't want our state to do so at the expense of hard-working people who made the mistake of caring about their state too much and decided to pursue a career in making it better.

It gives me faith to know that the people of this state, of this country overall, aren't supporting the drivel that comes out of the mouths of Tea Party Republicans. Instead, they want working men and women rewarded for the jobs they perform, able to make ends meet for their families without going broke for providing the services they do. That's the America I love, that's the America this movement loves, and I truly believe that's the America that we can create together.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Today's rally -- the largest yet. The fight goes on.

Today was a genuine day of solidarity.

I went to the Capitol today to be there when the 14 Democratic Senators returned from Illinois. The scene was inspiring -- countless thousands, by all estimates the largest number yet, huddled near one another to show their support for these heroes.

I stood behind a man from Illinois, who periodically held up his state's flag. At this moment, I didn't find it at all disrespectful -- he had come to show his support for our state's Democratic Senators, for this state's workers who have inspired many across the heartland.

But the vast majority of supporters, by my count eight out of every ten, came from Wisconsin, from all corners of the state. To my left was a group of firefighters from Racine. They, too, felt compelled to show their support for those losing their rights, though the bill doesn't affect police offices or firefighters. Their solidarity was thanked on several occasions by several members around us.

Walking through the mud up the hill, I was assisted several times, without asking for the help, by those upon higher ground. It was a metaphor for this movement, I thought to myself: people helping others, understanding that an injury to one is an injury to all (even if the injury here was simply a muddy pair of gloves).

I heard several of the 14 State Senators speak; all were inspiring, truly thankful of the people who came to support them in the past few weeks. 'Thank you' was a common theme of the rally today, too. When the senators thanked the people, the people thanked them back. But when the people thanked the senators, the senators insisted that it was they who were thankful for the people.

That's what democracy looks like, ultimately -- when it's done right.

The time came for me to head back home. I had been a part of a shuttle bus from AFSCME over on Excelsior Drive on the west side of Madison. That's right -- I was 'bussed in' by a union. Though, like everyone else on the bus with me, I am proudly from Wisconsin.

I sat next to a woman from Fennimore. She and her party were correctional officers from the area, and had just lost their bargaining rights. And yet, they remained optimistic -- the whole ride home was full of laughter, an optimism I can honestly say filled the crowd today.

And that's what I took home from the rally. This isn't the ending -- this is just the beginning. The supporters there today may have lost legislatively, but their resolve remains strong. They will fight to the end to get their rights back, to support the members of their communities that help to make our state work.

We cannot give up, and I am confident we will not give up as well.

We ARE Wisconsin.

WI Sec. of State La Follette delays Walker bill

Apparently the Secretary of State DOES have an important job!

Doug La Follette, the current Wisconsin Secretary of State, is delaying publishing the recent law signed yesterday by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The bill will remove the rights of public service employees to collectively bargain their contracts. But by delaying the publication of the bill, La Follette stalls it's implementation, at least until March 25.

Citing legal challenges to the law made by Dane County Executive Kathleen Faulk and County Board Chair Scott McDonnell, La Follette's delay allows more time for those legal disputes to cultivate, giving the courts the opportunity to determine if the law was passed in an illegal manner.

The Senate Republicans passed the bill through questionable means by streamlining it without proper notice. The Republicans' failure to adhere to open meeting laws meant that they violated not only the trust of the people but also the laws meant to protect them from legislation passed in 30 minutes or less.

Such "pizza delivery" legislation prevents the people from being able to make their voices heard, to express their support or disdain for bills up for consideration, or even to just be INFORMED of the bills that are out there. Though the legal battle following this mess will likely fail to prevent the law from being implemented in the long-run, it's necessary to defend the rights of the people, to show these Republican legislators that these practices of "sudden-impact" legislation are not acceptable.

There are some that will criticize La Follette for acting political in a position of neutrality. The Secretary of State, after all, isn't supposed to have any input on laws, but to merely publish them when they pass and adhere to the rule of law himself. But La Follette isn't violating his position of power -- he's merely delaying the implementation of the law by two weeks to allow for legal challenges to be heard. The law will be put in place following this delay -- La Follette isn't preventing governance, but simply allowing the judicial branch of government to work as well.

And even so, the typical time it takes to publish laws is ten days. Walker' request to La Follette's office to publish the law on Monday is atypical, an unusual request to make for any piece of legislation that isn't an emergency.

There's no problem with delaying the publishing of this terrible law, to allow for more discussion about its legality. La Follette stays true to his namesake, allowing the people of Wisconsin a greater chance to have a say about the law, and furthermore allowing the courts a chance to review it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Does democracy end at an election? Another rant on the budget bill

Throughout the proceedings of this budget mess, I've heard a lot of criticisms from conservative colleagues of mine (yes, I have conservative friends -- it's only politics, people!) regarding the situation.

We argue on a myriad of issues, but one argument I'm growing tired of hearing is the premise that the voters CHOSE these leaders in November, and therefore there isn't room for concern from those on the left in Wisconsin about the end of collective bargaining rights. This point is extended towards their argument against recall elections of Republican legislators.

This argument is faulty for many reasons. Firstly: the GOP in Wisconsin NEVER campaigned on removing collective bargaining rights. Independents in particular wanted Walker to compromise on the budget bill, not to ram it through with the stripping of collective bargaining. The people of Wisconsin, therefore, didn't vote for this at all: they voted for candidates that had veiled intentions to remove the rights of public service employees once they came into power.

Secondly: a recall election exists precisely because the people of Wisconsin decided early in the 20th century that a mechanism needed to be in place to correct an overreach by a governing official. The threat of recall rests in the back of these politicians' minds as a reminder that they cannot legislate beyond their constituents' wishes. Furthermore, the USE of recall ensures that constituents can actually remove these officials when they DO overreach.

To believe that the people of this state support this bill on the premise that they elected these people into office is a silly assumption to make. People select representatives based on several factors, including a dissatisfaction with their opponents more than an acceptance of their ideals. The election of 2010 wasn't so much an endorsement of Scott Walker and the GOP in Wisconsin as much as it was a strong conservative base versus an apathetic liberal one.

Take that fact, plus the fact that no candidate ever campaigned on collective bargaining rights in 2010, and you have what we're seeing today. People are mad as hell about the bill that passed last night in the Senate (and today in the Assembly). They see it not only as an attack on public workers, but also an attack on working class Wisconsinites in general.

So no, democracy doesn't end at the ballot box. People are responsible for preserving their democratic rights, are charged with the duty of informing their representatives that their wishes are (or are not) being met. That is what these protests are all about. In Wisconsin, democracy is further extended by the voters' right to issue a recall election. It's one more check on government officials that the people are entitled to have.

To believe that democracy ends after we cast our ballots, that the people of Wisconsin "voted" for this and should just accept it, is a faulty assumption to make. It's irresponsible to have such a passive view of politics and governance.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A statewide travesty: collective bargaining rights stripped

The major aspect of the budget repair bill -- the stripping of collective bargaining rights for state workers -- is now as good as law.

State Senate Republicans stripped all financial parts of Scott Walker's budget repair bill in order to pass the most controversial part: the removal of bargaining rights for state employees. The bill passed tonight 18-1.

Here's why this vote was utter bull----.

First, Scott Walker included the removal of these rights because it was critical to the budget -- his words, not mine. The actual effect of the removal of bargaining rights would be minimal, if anything. But Walker insisted, time after time, that these rights had to be removed, that it was critical to the budget. It was all about the budget. The budget. The budget. THE BUDGET!

Then the Senate Republicans stripped all of the budgetary items from the bill in order to pass the removal of collective bargaining rights.

Why is this important? To pass a budget bill, quorum must be met. Fourteen Senate Democrats fled the state in order to prevent it. That meant the entire budget repair bill couldn't be passed.

So by stripping the budget aspects from the bill, passing only the collective bargaining part of the bill, Scott Walker and his Republican allies effectively admit that removing collective bargaining rights isn't a budgetary issue.

Get it yet?

It's never been about the budget. It's not about the budget. The budget doesn't matter to these people, these Republican legislators.

What matters is the removal of power for unions -- perceived or real -- that prevents governments from dictating, not negotiating, contracts. Workplace conditions, sick leave, vacation time, maternity leave, classroom size, and a host of other important issues are now non-negotiable.

Which is great for a Republican-controlled state. Not so much for middle-class families whose lives depend upon the paychecks of these workers.

That tens of thousands of protesters were unable to sway the opinions of these legislators speaks volumes. That one man was so arrogant to think that he was righteous in his opinion, that negotiation between Republicans and Democrats was never an option, speaks to his true character.

Scott Walker's actions have awoken a sleeping giant -- middle-class families who finally see what this man stands for, whose side he's on, and how far he will go to make sure that Wisconsin is only hospitable for big-business. The question is: is it too late to make a difference?

I hope not. Balancing a budget upon the backs of working class families is not acceptable, especially when those families are STILL struggling with the effects of the recession.

This bill was passed in one night. The committee hearing took seven minutes, didn't include any input from the public. That may be illegal, may invalidate the vote -- we shall see.

The recall efforts have been very positive. Democrats report that they've received more than 15 percent of the signatures needed in a single weekend for all Republican Senators eligible. Let's hope that this event encourages more to support this effort.

The damage is done, and reversing it won't be easy. It will require a Democratic-controlled legislature (not just the Senate, but the Assembly as well). It will take years to reverse. It will take the removal of our current governor as soon as his time comes.

Tonight is a blow to the movement. Tonight, no doubt, there are tears being shed. But this is not the end -- it's the beginning. The attacks on the middle class will not go unanswered. We will respond, in kind, to these vicious manipulations of government control, to these alterations to the state we've come to love.

Wisconsin is a wonderful state, full of wonderful people. I've met many of them at the protest rallies. But the support for this movement goes beyond Capitol Square. It goes to the families who will be affected by this dismantling of our culture, the families who will be destroyed by Walker's ambitions.

We must never give up. Never, never, never. Grieve over tonight's outcome. But do not mourn; work for a better tomorrow.

This rant went all over the place -- and I apologize for that. But given the circumstances, I'm sure you understand.

SOLIDARITY FOREVER.

At listening session, Sensenbrenner, Vukmir, refuse to listen

On Tuesday night, Republican Congressional Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Republican State Sen. Leah Vukmir held a joint town hall meeting at the Wauwatosa Public Library.

Unfortunately for those that attended, Sensenbrenner and Vukmir adjourned the meeting early due to the overwhelming presence of opponents of Scott Walker's budget bills. Apparently it was too much to ask of these two representatives to have a meeting where constituents could voice their grievances.

Vukmir state that she felt bombarded by the people in attendance. "It is very clear to me that the folks that came last night were there for two reasons, to disrupt and to intimidate," she said.

Sensenbrenner echoed those sentiments in a statement released by his office: "It is unfortunate that the same respect given at Congressman Sensenbrenner's Town Hall Meeting in Brookfield Sunday evening wasn't experienced [Tuesday] night."

But those that attended the meeting -- actual constituents and other members of the city's government -- paint a different picture of what transpired. One member described Sensenbrenner as "[swinging] his gavel anytime someone from the crowd voiced dismay." Some city officials described the crowd as civil, never out of control, and that the meeting was adjourned early due to Sensenbrenner and Vukmir's dissatisfaction with the crowd's attitude towards the budget bills.

The description of Sensenbrenner in this manner certainly fits his M.O. While acting as Judiciary Chairman in 2005, Sensenbrenner refused Democrats the right to speak at a hearing on the PATRIOT Act, shutting off their microphones, turning off C-SPAN cameras, and walking out of the room with his fellow Republicans.

It seems likely that's exactly what happened on Tuesday night in Tosa. Sensenbrenner, angry that the room was full of his ideological opposites, ended the meeting early with his colleague Vukmir, citing non-existent disruptions as the reason to do so.

Were the people there upset? Probably. Did they voice that frustration? No doubt. But "disruptive" is in the eye of the beholder, and Sensenbrenner has a terrible track record of making the determination of who is and isn't disruptive -- usually on the basis of one's political stance.

In fact, when Tea Party protesters invaded the town hall meetings of Democrats in the run-up to pass health care reform, Sensenbrenner praised those "disrupters" and scorned Democrats as not listening to the people.

So when Sensenbrenner is the recipient of similar protests, does he adhere to the same standard he required of Democrats? Of course not -- what a silly question to ask!

Whether Sensenbrenner and Vukmir agree with their constituents or not is up to them. It's also up to their constituents to determine whether they want to support them in the future. But calling off a town hall meeting because you disagree with the points of view of the majority present is disrespectful -- especially if the purpose of the town hall is to hear the concerns of your constituents. Sensenbrenner ought to be ashamed of himself, as should Vukmir, for how they conducted themselves on Tuesday evening, ignoring the voices of the people they supposedly represent. The least they could do, at a listening session, is listen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Radio Heat Open Thread

Open thread for the Radio Heat show going on tonight. Go to http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ckwalker1984 to listen live.

Who really is stalling Wisconsin government?

Who is ultimately responsible for stalling Wisconsin’s state government? Is it the Democratic senators that left the state in order to prevent quorum on an atrocious bill? Or is it the governor himself, who refuses to budge on the issue of collective bargaining rights?

Put into those terms, it seems that both parties share part of the blame for having stalled our government. If Democrats returned home, it could be argued, the bill would be passed, effectively allowing the legislature to send the bill for Walker’s signature, putting government back in motion.

But in actuality, the fault DOESN’T rest with Democrats -- it's the governor whose failure to negotiate is slowing down government. Despite the terrible elements of the bills Walker is proposing, Democratic senators have indicated that they’re willing to return to Madison if collective bargaining rights were retained.

Walker won’t budget -- it's imperative (at least in his own mind) that these rights be stripped from public workers in Wisconsin.

If Walker wants to get the senators back, to pass the bill requiring an increase in the amount that public service employees pay into their pensions and health benefits, all he has to do is promise these senators that the collective bargaining rights of workers remain intact. These rights, after all, allow public service employees the ability to negotiate important aspects of their contracts, including working conditions, sick days, vacation time, and so forth.

Workers have indicated to Walker they’re willing to pay more into their benefits. But Walker sees no room for compromise, would rather hold his breath before making any deal that would be sufficient for workers and the 14 Democratic lawmakers. Even the recent emails that his office has released indicate that Walker isn’t truly committed to compromise on the issue -- one provision of his idea of compromise would only allow collective bargaining to work if both parties involved agreed to it. That plan would render bargaining rights totally dependent on the other party’s benevolence to negotiate, rendering bargaining rights useless anyway.

So who is really stalling the legislation? Who is ultimately responsible for it being held up in the senate? While technically speaking the Democrats are the ones preventing its passage, they’d happily pass the bill Walker proposed if he’d simply commit to compromise. For him to refuse to negotiate, to refuse to budge on this one issue, in the face of unions, workers, protesters, and Democrats who have already offered a very solid compromise, is a disgusting display of immaturity.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Priorities out of whack: Walker's budget essentially raises taxes on poor

Does Gov. Walker really care for the people of this state? In his latest attempt to make "Wisconsin work," Walker takes away hundreds of dollars from poorer Wisconsin families.

Scott Walker's budget proposal would eliminate tax credits for low-income families in Wisconsin. The Earned-Income Tax Credit would be lessened significantly, affecting thousands of families in the Badger State.

According to Madison.com, a single mother earning $15,000 per year with two children would lose more than $300 per year under Walker's plan. A two-parent household earning just above the poverty level -- or about $30,000 per year -- would lose between $200 and $260 per year in tax credits.

The proposal runs in conjunction with Walker's plans to give big business huge tax breaks, more than $140 million overall, which have been attributed to hindering the state's budget mess even more.

Walker's budget repair bill called for state workers and public service employees to pay more into their benefits package than they already do. Now, to balance the budget even further, Walker is calling on the poor to accept an increase in taxes.

The budget, it seems, is being balanced on the backs of working men and women of Wisconsin. The shared burden transcends across all economic levels...except the richest in the state and big business, who will actually pay less in taxes under Walker's proposals.

At a time when many Wisconsinites are still struggling with the effects of the national recession, how is it moral to ask of those most affected by it to bear the burden of correcting the state's budget mess? Barely able to support themselves, the idea that these working men and women should bear the brunt of the responsibility in fixing the budget is nothing less than obscene. If anything, those who are struggling should be given more help, not less, and should not be asked to give more of their paychecks to help the mess that Scott Walker is creating.

But the lies Walker tells are only growing, not just in their number but in their brashness as well. Among them, the governor claims that state workers pay next to nothing in their pension costs, a myth that was corrected late in February by Tax.com's David Cay Johnston, who points out that pension costs are differed portions of workers' paychecks.

Walker's lies and mistruths are simple attempts to coerce Wisconsin citizens into accepting his warped spending priorities. Though Wisconsin isn't buying it -- the latest polling data shows Walker's disapproval rating at 53 percent, with more Wisconsinites wanting him to compromise with Democrats in the legislature (65 percent) -- it's key that we continue to fight Walker on his spending priorities that make Wisconsin a less hospitable place for the people of Wisconsin to call home.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cleaning costs, emails of "support," indicate Walker is lying

$7 million! That's how much damage protesters caused the Capitol building, according to state officials. The damage is attributed to tape residue that held signs up on the walls.

Except...doesn't that figure seem a little...excessive? If you're like me, you're probably wondering: how could all of those signs cause THAT much damage? Especially if what was primarily used was painter's tape, which doesn't do much damage to marble surfaces, if any at all.

So when Walker's officials cited the $7 million figure at a court hearing Thursday night, it seems that they may have been making the number up. In fact, the administration has since backed away from that number, having been unable to back it up with any tangible evidence.

By how much have they backed off that number? Almost all $7 million of it.

So all's fine and dandy then, right? Well, not exactly. As pointed out at Uppity Wisconsin, it's possible that the Walker administration may have committed perjury if, while under oath, they cited the $7 million figure as reason why protesters had to be restricted from the Capitol. If they knowingly lied, it could spell big trouble for Walker in the years ahead (if he's even got that).

But that's not the only thing Walker has to worry about. After having publicly stated to reporters that he'd been receiving thousands of emails in support of his budget repair bill, the media is calling his bluff. The Isthmus and the Wisconsin Associated Press are suing Walker for records of his emails, hoping to get a glimpse of what the governor qualifies as support.

Indeed, it seems highly unlikely that Walker would receive that much support without also receiving emails of discontent as well. Polls indicate that, while a majority of Wisconsinites support the economic aspects of Walker's bill, they greatly disapprove of the removal of workers' rights. Even Republican-friendly Rasmussen shows that Walker's bill has minimal support, due to it stripping the rights of workers. As a result, Walker's own approval ratings have tanked, with more than half of the state disapproving of his job performance.

What's clear is that Walker isn't being genuine with the people. His administration is pulling numbers out of nowhere regarding the costs of clean-up, and it also seems like he's lying about how much support he really has. When you combine those points with the fact that Walker considered placing troublemakers in the crowds to stir up tensions, it's disheartening to think that this man really is our governor, really is the leader of our state.

We ought to reconsider our priorities when the next election comes around, through recall or otherwise. Do we side with big business, with the very governor who is ruining our state? Or do we consider our other options, of improving our state's standing in the nation through the progressive traditions that made us great in the first place? The choice should seem obvious.

Capitol building reopened -- a victory for democracy

A ruling yesterday creates a compromise for protesters and conservative lawmakers that leaves both sides satisfied with the final outcome.

With access to the Capitol being heavily restricted this week, protesters and unions filed suit against Scott Walker, alleging that the restrictions violated Article 1 Section 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution. Walker and Republicans countered that the restrictions ensured safety standards were being kept in place.

A judge ruled last night that, though protesters could no longer spend the night there, the Capitol had to be reopened to the public.

Former State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager addressed the protesters last night, telling them, "We've won this battle."

The fact that access to the building can be limited after 6:00 PM is, admittedly, saddening. But greater access to the Capitol during the day comes about from this ruling, allowing protesters to have a more direct voice with the legislators who occupy the building. As the ACLUMadison Twitter feed wrote, "the Judge's order is balanced and well-intended. Restrictions of Capitol are unconstitutional and camping there isn't free speech."

On the other hand, by limiting access to the building during regular business hours, there was a clear violation, not only of speech rights but also of Wisconsin Constitutional rights.

Scott Walker's attempts to limit democratic demonstrations in the Capitol have been thwarted by the rule of law. This is a victory for protesters, even if they can no longer stay over night there. That protesters are better able to have the ears of lawmakers within the Capitol during the day is an accomplishment that shouldn't be ignored or brushed aside.

It's ironic that this ruling utilizes the art of compromise -- perhaps Scott Walker can learn that the measure of true leadership rests within that concept.

But I won't be holding my breath for that.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Five points to keep in mind regarding the protests in Madison

With the protests at the Capitol coming into their third week, it's important to remember some major themes present within the protest itself. A lot has happened over the past couple of weeks, so it's key that we stay on message and remember what exactly has transpired.

People need to be aware of the major issues surrounding the debate, of the governor's attempts to remove workers' rights from those that make this state run. With polls indicating that most are in support of these protesters (1, 2), it's clear that Scott Walker is outside the mainstream. Still, for those who are unconvinced -- a sizable number of Wisconsinites, sadly -- here are a few reminders of why you should support the workers who are protesting this ghastly bill...

1. The people of Wisconsin support workers' rights. While polls show that more Wisconsinites agree that state workers should pay more into their pensions and health benefits, an overwhelming majority agree that the right to collectively bargain their contracts needs to be kept intact (see links above). What Walker and his Republican allies are proposing goes directly against the will of the people, and was never proposed in any campaign by the governor or legislators.

2. The protesters have been nothing but peaceful. The recent spat between protesters surrounding Glenn Grothman, a Republican senator who is the most ardent supporter of Walker's policies, is being exaggerated by many on the right as a "mob" or an "assault" on the legislator. Grothman came out of the fray unscathed, and in fact was later quoted as saying he never felt threatened by the crowd's presence. Furthermore, the police have commented on how amazingly peaceful demonstrators have been, another sign that the imagery of violent protesters taking over Madison is wrong.

3. The demonstrations are in support of democracy. The idea that the protesters are trying to reverse electoral results (by trying to prevent representatives from carrying out their agenda) is phooey. The tenets of representative democracy don't state that you give up your goals and aspirations after you've cast your ballot -- it requires more than that, direct appeals to legislators and speaking your mind when you feel wronged. The very fact that Wisconsin has the ability to perform recall elections is proof that elections themselves can be reversed, if so desired by the people.

4. The 14 Democratic senators want to vote on this bill. When the Wisconsin 14 will return to the Senate is totally up to Scott Walker. A very reasonable compromise has been proposed by the 14 Democratic senators -- they would agree to return for a vote that would create higher pay-ins on the pension and health benefits of state workers if collective bargaining rights were left intact. Walker said "not a chance." If the budget repair bill is only about economics, why is Walker holding out on an un-economic issue of the bill?

5. Walker is showing that he doesn't like democracy all too much. Finally, Scott Walker has demonstrated strong disdain for the protesters and democracy in action. Though he stated in a televised address that he supported the protesters' rights (though not their goals), in private his words and actions have proven otherwise. Talking to a blogger impersonating a billionaire donor, Walker mentioned he had considered placing troublemakers in the crowds, jeopardizing the safety of protesters and law enforcement personnel. He's also made it clear through closing the Capitol building (a violation the state Constitution) that he doesn't want people inside the building, possibly swaying some moderate Republicans to accept a deal, keeping only a limited number of people inside the building at all times -- in turn, limiting the amount of democracy allowed in the people's house.

Taken collectively, it's clear that the workers fighting for their rights are justified in doing so. These are workers, after all, who already pay nearly 100 percent of their pensions, pay a considerable amount of their own health plans, and earn very little compared to their private sector counterparts. But these protests aren't even about the financial burden -- they're about the political implications that surround the removal of collective bargaining rights.

Keeping these five points in mind, it's hard to imagine why anyone would support Gov. Walker's proposal to end the rights of workers in this state. The right thing for Walker to do would be to compromise -- a trait that we're seeing is far too adult for him to carry out.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Glenn Grothman assaulted! mobbed! shouted loudly at?

Wisconsin state Sen. Glenn Grothman was recently followed and shouted upon by protesters at the Capitol building. Grothman had a difficult time getting into the Capitol, not necessarily due to the protesters' interference (the doors were locked per Scott Walker's order).

Grothman was followed by about 200 protesters who were shouting "Shame! Shame!" Though very forceful with their rhetoric, they never caused harm to the senator, who himself said that he was never afraid of violence during the event.

"I really think if I had had to, I could have walked through the crowd and it would have been okay," Grothman said.

Some on the right, however, are pretending that the crowd "mobbed" or "assaulted" Grothman. The idea of the protesters acting violently is wrong: Grothman was never harmed physically, the victim of a shoutfest and not a slugfest.

In fact, around three minutes into a video of the incident, you can actually see protesters protecting Grothman from the fray, holding up peace signs to silence the crowd and back them away from Grothman. Chants of "Peaceful! Peaceful" overcome the crowd.

At that time, Grothman was joined by Rep. Brett Hulsey, a Democrat. Hulsey came to Grothman's rescue, telling protesters, "This is a peaceful protest. You need to back away."

The actions of the protesters weren't respectable. But they weren't violent either. Some on the right are so fixated on labeling these protests as violent that they ignore the clearly visible evidence that they aren't violent at all. Was Grothman surrounded? Yes. Was he yelled loudly at? Yes. Was he injured in any way? Not at all.

In fact, during the entirety of the protests thus far there hasn't been a single arrest made. One citation has been given, from a protester that spit on someone else -- but that "someone else" was another protester. As far as violent acts goes, nothing of the sort has occurred. The shoutfest against Sen. Grothman was the most heated scene yet during the life of the protests...and Grothman came out unscathed.

Conjuring up images of violence in order to discredit the movement in Madison is a shameful display of misinformation. The protesters have been very peaceful, surprising many of the officers at the Capitol that came from beyond Madison (it's rare, indeed, when protesters actually chant "thank you" to a police presence observing them).

Ignore the voices from the right saying that these protests are violent. They're misinformed generalizations of an event that was indeed non-violent physically.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Scott Walker's "legacy" destructive towards democracy

It's clear that Scott Walker is greatly concerned with his legacy. Whether he believes that his budget repair bill is the defining moment of conservatism for Wisconsin or he believes himself the heir of Ronald Reagan's philosophical tenets, Walker is sure, in his own mind, that he will be remembered for this moment in our state's history.

The funny thing is, I don't think many liberals would tend to disagree with him: he will surely be remembered for his outlandish behavior during a phone conversation with a man he thought was billionaire conservative David Koch, or his insistence that a non-fiscal matter that affects hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens is somehow necessary to solve a budget deficit, or that the "crisis" he's trying to solve is due in large part to tax giveaways he himself created for special interests that supported him.

His latest move to close the Capitol building to protesters wanting to enter it, to demonstrate in a peaceful manner -- a right guaranteed to the people of Wisconsin -- is just another example of the legacy Scott Walker will truly be remembered for. Our governor talks a big game, stating publicly in an address last week that he supports the protesters' rights.

In truth, however, Walker despises this display of democracy, wants it to end -- and to end fast. In the prank call heard 'round the world, Walker admitted that he had considered placing troublemakers within the crowds in order to stir things up among the protesters. Closing off the Capitol simply reinforces Walker's distaste for democratic demonstrations in Madison and elsewhere. He wants stability and conformity to his initiatives, but the people of this state (more than 70,000 of them last weekend alone) aren't giving it to him.

So what is Walker's response? Try and pass the bill anyway, by holding the jobs of thousands of state workers hostage in order to force Democratic state senators back to Wisconsin.

Sound leadership, as always, from our governor.

Instead of threatening the jobs of hardworking Wisconsin citizens, instead of preventing the democratic rights of law-abiding citizens, and instead of chatting it up with out-of-state billionaires, perhaps Scott Walker should consider something completely radical, for himself especially: compromise. It's no secret that the state workers have already agreed to the financial concessions in his bill. So Walker should accept them, keeping the collective bargaining rights intact as a show of cooperation.

It's what any good leader would do -- President John F. Kennedy put it best when he said, "civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." Though related to foreign policy at the time, those words fit especially well with the situation in Madison. Scott Walker, I worry, fears to negotiate for two simple reasons: he'd be criticized for being too civil by his conservative colleagues; and he refuses to admit what he'd call "defeat."

Those are two reasons that should never dictate how one should govern. A true leader disregards criticisms of being too civil, accepts it when things don't go his way, but most of all tries to find a way to salvage his policies while working with others. Scott Walker has that opportunity, but he's running away from it, a decision that can be characterized as foolish, brash...and stupid.